By Vic Scaravilli

Acts of the Apostles is the fifth book in the New Testament and is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. While Luke’s Gospel deals with Jesus’ life until the Ascension, Acts describes how the post-resurrection Church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, grew in understanding of Jesus’ teachings and spread the Good News to the rest of the world.

Luke is the author and wrote Acts after he wrote his Gospel. This book was written toward the end of the first Christian century and explains the Church’s transition from Judaism to expanding to the Gentiles. Although Acts is a major source for most of the history of the first century Church, it does not chronicle all of the events that happened but outlines crucial events and turning points in the early Christian community. Luke documents the beginning of our Church from the time of Christ’s Ascension and ends with Paul’s arrival in Rome 30 years later.

The Holy Spirit is the primary force throughout Acts enlightening and empowering the Church. Once the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the believers on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), it was the source of power that energized and guided all leaders and actions of the Church.

Although the title is Acts of the Apostles, this book is mostly about the lives of only two Apostles: Peter and Paul. The first 12 chapters deals with Peter being the focus of the Church’s life in Palestine while the remainder of the book is about Paul, his conversion, and building the Church among the Gentiles. Even though the other Apostles were not mentioned, they also went out into the world spreading the Gospel message and established Churches.

About one quarter of Acts is composed of sermons delivered by the first Christian leaders. These speeches were given to clarify the meaning of the beliefs understood by the apostles and their successors. The very first full-fledged gospel sermon was preached with authority by St. Peter concluding with the words, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of the Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

There are other descriptions of practices and beliefs in Acts we follow today.

The very first action the Apostles performed after Christ ascended to heaven was to choose a successor for Judas. Matthias was chosen to replace the office held by the former apostle. This action signifies apostolic succession where authority is passed on to bishops in an unbroken line of authority. (Acts 1:15-26)

The very first description of worship is described as “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This is an early description of our present-day mass and the celebration of the Eucharist.

In Chapter 6 the first deacons were ordained to assist leaders of the Church and in Chapter 14 the first priests are appointed.

The laying of hands or ordination is found throughout Acts. The passing of apostolic authority to bishops as well as ordaining priests and deacons was common during the early Church.

Acts 15 describes how the early Church made authoritative decisions. A council of Church leaders met and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, made binding decisions for the Christian community. Precedent was set for future Ecumenical Councils.

Baptism is frequently described as the way in which new believers became members of God’s family.

Our Church continues to follow the teachings and practices of the Apostles in described Acts.